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Anorexia nervosa is a serious illness that can have life threatening consequences. It is characterised by a significant restriction of food intake, compulsive exercising, an intense fear of weight gain and disturbances in a person’s body image. Individuals can develop unhelpful eating patterns, rituals or compensatory behaviours as part of the illness.

If you are concerned that someone close to you is displaying signs of anorexia nervosa, it is essential for them to get access to support as early as possible in order to give them the best chance at recovery.

Signs and symptoms of anorexia nervosa

Common signs of anorexia nervosa include the following:

  • Refusing to eat, skipping meals and avoiding eating around others
  • Losing weight
  • Wearing baggy and layered clothing
  • Lying about what they’ve eaten, how much and when
  • Exclusively eating perceived “healthy foods” and cutting out certain food types and whole food groups such as high calorie foods, fats, sugars and carbohydrates
  • Adopting rigid meal or eating rituals, such as only eating at certain times, cutting food into tiny pieces, or weighing and measuring food 
  • Being constantly preoccupied with food
  • Obsessing over their weight, body size and shape, and complaining about being fat, bloated or feeling full
  • Excessive exercising, vomiting or laxative use
  • Changes in personality and patterns of social interaction
  • Depression and mood swings
  • Increased isolation and withdrawal
  • Irregular or cessation of menstrual periods (amenorrhoea) in females
  • Feeling tired or dizzy, and being unable to concentrate on anything other than food

How can I tell if a loved one is suffering with anorexia?

People suffering from anorexia will typically feel extremely anxious, fearful and guilty around food, which may seem irrational to you. While it may be difficult to understand how or why someone has an eating disorder, it is important to remember that it is not a choice, nor is it something that they can simply stop.

The distress, panic, hopelessness and guilt felt by people suffering from anorexia can be incredibly distressing for the individual.

Unfortunately, a defining characteristic of anorexia is denial, so the person may seem ambivalent or try to avoid addressing the issue, making it difficult to get them to start and engage in treatment.

What can I do if I suspect a loved one is showing signs of anorexia?

We understand that talking to someone you think may be showing signs of anorexia can be difficult. Try to promote an open discussion where the person feels comfortable talking to you and discussing any worries or insecurities they might have. During the conversation, remember to speak calmly without getting angry or emotional, maintain a non-judgemental and friendly attitude , and try to help them recognise and engage in healthy eating habits. Most importantly, don’t give up, and try to encourage the person to seek help.

How can anorexia nervosa be treated?

With anorexia, it is important that the medical, nutritional, psychological and behavioural aspects of the illness are appropriately addressed.

At the Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai, we utilise family based therapy as the first line treatment as it has the highest evidence rating for adolescents who have had an illness duration of up to three years.

We also provide treatment for adults suffering from anorexia, where we use therapist-led, manualised-based approaches, including the Maudsley Anorexia Nervosa Treatment for Adults (MANTRA), cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and specialist supportive clinical management.

How to seek help for yourself or a loved one?

At Priory Wellbeing Centre Dubai we provide treatment for eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder and EDNOS. If you would like more information please call us on:  (+971) 4 245 3800 or send a message through the enquiry form on our website here

Nadia Brooker is a New Zealand trained and registered Counselling Psychologist, who holds a Masters of Health Science in Psychology. She has previously worked at the Regional Eating Disorders Service, as well as in the private tertiary setting at AUT University in Auckland, New Zealand.

Nadia is able to assist patients with personal, social and vocational functioning by using psychological assessments and interventions, as well as preventative approaches. Nadia’s approach to working with patients is holistic and client centred. She uses a variety of models, however primarily works using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) for both adolescents and adults. Nadia has also trained in Eating Disorder specific treatment modalities.